Fight fans want their beloved sport to grow, but Mixed Martial Arts probably won’t blossom into a "major" sport. Let’s accept that and move on.
Why can’t MMA achieve worldwide acceptance? The sport has great selling points, after all.
One of MMA's perks is that it's so visceral. It evokes raw, primal emotions that other sports, dainty by comparison, can’t make us feel.
The emotions created by MMA fights are organic to all of us. Fighting evokes animalistic feelings, a jolt that humans are wired to feel.
We are animals. We fight because bloodsport is nature. The fact that MMA isn't more prevalent points to a widespread denial of our own violent nature.
So nature won't propel MMA to the top of the sports kingdom. Our appetite for blood has been pacified by a taste for softer sports, like baseball. The average sports fan would rather watch a man swing a stick at a cowhide ball than behold two warriors brawling it out.
There are a slew of other obstacles blocking MMA’s path to international renown: Some people see grappling, a defining aspect of the sport, as boring—or even worse—"gay." Others say MMA is deplorable, no less savage than gladiatorial games. These zealots are hopeless.
Another roadblock: The sport lacks star power compared to older sports. Manny Pacquiao is a deity. Baseball enjoys household names like Albert Pujols. Yet at the pinnacle of MMA's popularity, the average American is oblivious to the titanic exploits of Anderson Silva or Jon Jones.
Will MMA ever become a "major sport"?
ESPN holds MMA in the same regard as curling or swimming—SportsCenter barely touches it. In fact, many "unbiased" purveyors of sports news scoff at MMA. It's blatant and vexing.
Brock Lesnar lured the spotlight to the Octagon, but his glittering gimmick wasn’t real. The UFC tries to match the thematic fight-hyping that professional wrestling is infamous for, but MMA isn’t pro wrestling. The product is inherently different.
Yes, MMA is still a baby. Conceived only two decades ago, venerable pastimes like baseball and football predate MMA by a century. In traditional sports, fandom has been cultivated and passed down through many generations. MMA has just started its journey, and it must confront time-honored rivals like MLB and the NFL in order to reach the top.
To match traditional sports, MMA needs better exposure. The UFC’s pantheon of titans can be beheld at a steep price: about $50 for a star-studded pay-per-view. Quality MMA will elude those who can't meet that expense—a lot of people.
The UFC has tried to expand their product; their partnership with FOX was a tactful gambit, but it hasn't yielded optimal results. What else can they do?
Meanwhile, Bellator, a provider of fantastic fights, is floundering in obscurity on MTV2.
More free shows are becoming available, but they generally lack star power. And even though they’re free, not all potential fans carry channels like Fuel TV, a desolate network devoting itself to UFC coverage.
So what? If the masses want pigskin and hoops, let them have it. Whether or not MMA wins their fandom, it will continue to be MMA. The product won’t wilt without their devotion.
MMA has etched out a sustainable existence on the periphery of the sports hierarchy. Let’s relish MMA as our exclusive jewel.